A local’s guide to Adelaide: ‘It can be a bit conservative, but also really exciting’

From botanic gardens to a pumping small-bar scene, there’s more to Adelaide than meets the eye, says artist Billie Justice Thomson


Because there’s so much produce grown close to the city, Adelaideans are used to having access to really fresh food. The best place to see that is the Central Market, a tightly packed little universe of food stalls that has no room for anything mediocre. The result is an intense patch of people that are genuinely interested in food and fresh produce.

I love shopping there, but it’s also a great place to grab lunch. The sandwiches at Lucia’s are as good as it gets; they get the best bread in every day, use South Australian olive oil instead of butter and the charcuterie is sliced in front of you to order. I also love Saudade, where the Portuguese custard tarts are still warm when you order them and come sprinkled with cinnamon.


Adelaide can be a bit conservative, but it’s also really exciting, and the Art Gallery of South Australia encapsulates both sides of that. When you walk in it feels really European and old-school, but then you go further in and find new collections and fantastic contemporary works. I’m really drawn to Nora Heysen’s flower paintings, and Tarnanthi is an incredible festival that highlights the unpredictable and unconventional approach taken by a lot of Indigenous work.

From there, you can tick a lot of art boxes within a 15-minute walk of the gallery. The South Australian Museum has an impressive collection of Indigenous art, and the MOD (Museum of Discovery) looks at the future of art and technology. Jam Factory is a teaching space that also showcases craftspeople, jewellers and furniture makers, while Samstag, Sasa and Ace are South Australian-focused contemporary galleries within easy reach.


It’s only a 20-minute drive from the city to the Adelaide Hills if you get a good run, but there’s such a quick shift of landscapes, it feels as though you’re two hours away. That helps to fuel a great community of makers with a strong philosophy of supporting locals.

Brid in Piccadilly is a coffee shop that also bakes fantastic bread, and Ensemble Studios next door is a beautiful store with three owners who make shoes, earrings and cut flowers. The Scenic hotel is a great place to end the day. You have to try the kangaroo schnitzel, and it has views looking through a valley to the ocean.

Green space

The Park Lands around Adelaide’s city centre are the reason Adelaide is one of only two National Park Cities in the world, but I’m obsessed with the Botanic Garden. There’s so much to see, you could get lost for a whole day; the Palm House is a delicate building with panes of vivid blue glass that make it feel otherworldly. The Amazon Waterlily Pavilion is incredible and the giant lilies look like something from a film set. But my favourite place is the Museum of Economic Botany, an austere time capsule of objects connected to farming and plants in South Australia. It’s a peaceful sanctuary within the garden, and a reminder that Europeans weren’t always here.


I lived in Melbourne for seven years and when I came back to Adelaide in 2016, the small-bar scene was pumping. They completely changed the atmosphere at night and made the city more accessible, diverse and welcoming. Now you can always find a bar that suits your mood. Udaberri is the original small bar and still one of the best, while Hains & Co is refined and has expertly made drinks. Loc is an inviting space with a great selection of natural wine, and 1000 Island feels like a nightclub where you can be a grown-up and not feel out of place.


If you want to get the most out of Adelaide, you have to stay in or very close to the CBD. The Majestic Minima in North Adelaide (from $135 per night) is within walking distance of many attractions, and my friend Jasmine Crisp just painted the exterior with native fruits and flowers. Inside, every room has a feature wall from local artists including Peter Drew, so you’re not just looking at white walls the whole time.


As told to Alexis Buxton-Collins

The GuardianTramp

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